It’s hard to look at photos of the US Border Patrol Facilities and not be horrified. Cramped and overcrowded rooms, sometimes stuffed with double the maximum capacity; people confined for well over the allowed period; children separated from their parents and thrown in rooms with strangers. And this may not be the worse yet, as a Trump administration lawyer went viral when she argued that the government was not obligated to provide basic hygiene products and beds to immigrant children detained at these facilities.
We should call these facilities for what they are: concentration camps. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did just that, to a massive wave of backlash from conservatives and supposed liberals. The moral outrage of people such as Rep. Liz Cheney, who demanded that AOC “do us all a favour and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history”, strikes me as hypocritical cognitive dissonance, an attempt to distance America from the evil of genocide, without confronting the violent bigotry that has characterised it since its conception. And maybe if Cheney took her own advice, she’d realise that the similarities between the early stages of the Nazis’ dehumanisation and persecution of Jews and the Trump administration’s sustained and insidious attack on undocumented immigrants are perhaps too striking for comfort.
As a Jewish person who attended Jewish schools until university, I got a pretty thorough education on the Holocaust and on everything that led up to it. I always knew that the Holocaust didn’t happen overnight, that the death camps were preceded by a systemic othering, dehumanisation, and degradation of the civil rights of European Jews. But my experience is not universal. In fact, studies show that both in the UK and the US, there are substantial gaps in knowledge where it comes to understanding how the Third Reich functioned, why Jews were primarily targeted, and where and when certain events on the Holocaust’s timeline took place.
We should call these facilities for what they are: concentration camps.
In the face of these troubling findings, it’s even more important that we remember the Holocaust as the culmination of a sustained political campaign of hatred and against the background of an essentially normalised anti-Semitic popular sentiment. It’s important that we know how every step of the Nazi plot looked if we ever want to be able to draw the necessary parallels – and to fight against any attempt at systemic mass persecution.
Many Jews themselves have been vocal not only about the condition of these concentration camps, but about politicians’ misdirected rage towards the use of the term and its connotations. The Jewish activist group Never Again Action, which organised a protest outside a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention in New Jersey – in which thirty-six were arrested – posted on its Facebook page: “As Jews, we know from our own history what happens when a government targets, dehumanizes and strips an entire group of people of their civil and human rights.
“We also understand intimately that the Holocaust is not an untouchable moment in time,” the group added. “It serves as an important reference for understanding the ways that white supremacy and fascism function and offers us the tools forged in hindsight to identify practices of dehumanization and, yes, concentration camps, where they currently exist. This is not just a crisis at the border — this is happening everywhere.”
Jewish activists have not been the only ones for whom the recent crisis hit too close to home – survivors of Japanese-American internment camps demonstrated in Oklahoma last month, stating they were “here […] to protest the repetition of history”. Indeed, many have pointed out that the Holocaust was not the first instance of the use of concentration camps; neither was it the last.
[it] allows enough distance to let them comfortably wash their hands of any similarity or possibility of involvement.
How I see it, it’s the American right-wing’s immediate and singular attachment to the Holocaust as a frame of reference and its pretensions of moral outrage that, ironically, betray at best its willing ignorance and at worst its total indifference to the escalating crisis. For those unwilling to condemn the racist, misogynistic Border Patrol and its facilities, this focus on the Nazi concentration camps – deployed by an enemy across an ocean and shrouded by a veil of unreachable evil – allows enough distance to let them comfortably wash their hands of any similarity or possibility of involvement. Hiding behind a narrow and historically blind definition, rather than confronting America’s own cruel and extensive record of human rights violations, lets people off the hook, convinces (or deludes) them that they couldn’t possibly be capable of that sort of violence.
In fact, anyone is. We’re witnessing everything that allowed and legitimised this violence – aggressive, disparaging propaganda, dehumanisation, and now active organisation against asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants, even at legal residency hearings.
And now, concentration camps. Which is what they are, and what we should call them.
Featured image via Brooke Pierce on Twitter
The Norwich Radical is non-profit and run by volunteers. All funds raised help cover the maintenance costs of our website, as well as contributing towards future projects and events. Please consider making a small contribution to fund a better media future.